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Reviews: January 20, 2008

20 Jan, 2008 By: Home Media Reviews


Moving McAllister


Moving McAllister
Street 1/29
Magnolia, Comedy, B.O. $0.04 million, $26.98 DVD, ‘PG-13' for some drug content, sexual references and crude humor.
Stars Ben Gourley, Mila Kunis, Jon Heder, Rutger Hauer.

Mormons are certainly getting exposure these days. First we had Napoleon Dynamite, written by Jared and Jerusha Hess and starring Jon Heder, and now writer-director-actor Ben Gourley is stepping into the limelight. All attended Brigham Young University, a fact prominently displayed when speaking of any of the aforementioned.

But guess what? Mitt Romney-lovin' folk wouldn't be caught dead watching anything as hip as Moving McAllister, a new film written and directed by and starring Gourley. From fart humor to extended psychedelic drug sequences, this ‘PG-13' comedy isn't for the straight-laced.

Gourley plays the kinda shy, kinda sexy aspiring lawyer Rick. Rick wants to impress the partner at his firm, McAllister (Hauer, playing it deliciously haughty in his brief screen moments), so McAllister gets the groveling Rick to ship his beloved niece (Kunis) and her pet pig across the country in a rickety old truck. Madcap antics ensue.

Kunis, as the grating but endearing Michelle, does more than just reprise Jackie from “That '70s Show,” actually underplaying her bratty character and getting surprisingly tender when she meets Rick's dad — a costume-frocked poor soul with little grip on reality. Heder also doesn't just pull the Napoleon Dynamite shtick as weirdo hitchhiker Orlie, actually coming off as a little scary, if amusing.

Gourley, for his part, keeps the writing minimalist and his acting listless. That's the point — Rick is a “non-person,” as Michelle calls him. Rick's revelation that pleasing his boss and taking the bar exam aren't all there is to life — oh yeah, and Michelle is gorgeous and fun — could have been played up a bit more, but the film does manage to wrap itself up tidily enough, coming off as breezy rather than contrived. Moving McAllister might not be so moving, but it will please fans of any of its actors as well as fans of light indie comedies. Billy Gil

Poor Boy's Game
Prebook 1/24; Street 2/19
ThinkFilm, Drama, $27.98 DVD, ‘R' for pervasive language, strong sexual content and some violent images.Stars Danny Glover, Rossif Sutherland, Flex Alexander, Greg Bryk, Laura Regan.

This understated and brooding drama stars Rossif Sutherland (I'm Reed Fish) as Donnie Rose, a young man and amateur boxer whose release from prison causes immediate complications in a Nova Scotia neighborhood.

Nine years before, Donnie's racially motivated assault of a black teen permanently handicapped the young man, a fact not forgotten by his victim's working-class family, which is headed by George Carvery (Glover), a former boxing trainer. Scorn from the black community is the least of Donnie's problem, though.

Carvery's prot?g?, the explosive and vengeance-minded Ossie Paris (Alexander of Snakes on a Plane), wants Donnie as his next opponent. Prodded by his racist family and a $20,000 payday, Donnie agrees to the fight, unexpectedly giving him and the elder Carvery a chance to settle the horrors of the past on their own terms.

Though it suffers from a somewhat predictable and overstuffed story — especially the racist practices of Donnie's club-owner uncle and a romantic subplot — Poor Boy's Game benefits from veteran director/co-writer Clement Virgo's subtle and even-keel approach.

The film rarely veers into melodrama, and a collection of steady performances help. The always underrated Glover, who has been in everything from the “Lethal Weapon” series to Dreamgirls, gives the movie needed gravitas with his quiet, intense performance as a man torn between benevolence and rage.

Anyone looking for explosive sports action won't find it here, but any fan of well-rounded character studies will find much to like in Poor Boy's Game. — Pete Croatto

Naked Movie
Street 3/18
Victory Multimedia, Comedy, $19.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Sam Henry Kass, Michael Badalucco, Andy Dick, Tori Spelling.

Some time in the mid-1990s, a writer-director named Sam Henry Kass made a film called The Search for One-Eye Jimmy, which became a cult hit. Naked Movie is a sequel of sorts — a mockumentary about the making of a sequel to One-Eye Jimmy.

Kass stars as himself in Naked Movie, filming his attempts to resurrect his career after a failed stint as a “Seinfeld” producer.

Michael Badalucco returns as Joe Head, a character from One-Eye Jimmy. Joe in Naked Movie is referred to as an Emmy-winning TV star, an obvious reference to Badalucco's stint on “The Practice.” To amp up the meta-humor, Joe plays a fictionalized version of himself in the fake follow-up, Joe Head Goes Hollywood, in which Joe and his buddies have moved to Los Angeles and become 1970s-style street pimps.

Kass must maneuver through Hollywood to secure funding for his movie, eventually striking a deal with a porn mogul (Andy Dick). Tori Spelling plays Kass' agent, who interrupts the film to provide her own nasally commentary.

It isn't too hard to believe this was a low-budget effort since it looks like it was shot with a camcorder. Naked Movie plays out like a 90-minute inside joke, a zany mosh of various ideas about the film industry, but the concept is funnier than the payoff. The razor-thin plot serves mainly as an excuse to load as many ‘B'- and ‘C'-list celebrities onto the screen as possible.

Carmen Electra makes multiple appearances, each time confusing Kass for a different former lover, while Lou Diamond Phillips comes on board as a co-star of Joe Head Goes Hollywood.

But the film wouldn't be complete without an appearance by the redoubtable Lance Kinsey, co-star of five “Police Academy” movies.

Prominent subtitles make us aware of every last cameo.

If the lines between fact and fiction weren't blurred enough, at one point Christian Slater wanders onto the set and seems unaware that some of the actors aren't playing themselves.

When its over, it's hard to say if anything important happened here, except that Kass pops up in a featurette to announce One-Eye Jimmy should be on DVD soon, which should please its fans to no end. John Latchem

The Unknown Trilogy
Street 1/29
Allumination, Thriller, $29.98 DVD, ‘PG-13' for some disturbing thematic material, violence, sexuality and preteen drinking.
Stars Sal Mazzotta, Robert Costanzo, Johnny Williams, Ed O'Ross, Abe Vigoda, David Proval, Angie Everhart, Damian DiFlorio.

The Unknown Trilogy pieces together three terrifying tales that reveal what can happen to people who let fear permeate their imaginations and control their lives.

The film is told in true “Twilight Zone” fashion through the narration of an unsympathetic psychiatrist (Costanzo) who takes us inside the lives of three of his favorite, tormented patients. First, we meet Frankie “The Squirrel” (Mazzotta, who is also the film's co-writer and co-director), a lifelong loser with a compulsive gambling problem who makes a deal with the devil.

Then there's the story of a 6-year-old (DiFlorio) with a great fear of the unknown that is galvanized by a fateful encounter at a funeral home.

Finally, we're introduced to the tragic life of a guilt-ridden father coping with the Christmas Day death of his only child.

At first glance, The Unknown Trilogy may look like just another mediocre, low-budget collection of short films. Fortunately, the filmmakers invested where it matters most — delivering compelling storylines wrapped around solemn, well-planned cinematography.

This film will easily attract fans of shows such as “Tales from the Crypt” and “The Twilight Zone.” But the trilogy's stories aren't just filled with doom and gloom; they are infused with elements of humor and drama that make them intelligent, emotionally charged accounts with a much broader appeal. — Matt Miller

Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project
Prebook 1/22; Street 2/19
Vivendi Visual, Documentary, $26.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Don Rickles, Bob Newhart, Robert DeNiro, Clint Eastwood, Whoopi Goldberg, Robin Williams, Jay Leno, Chris Rock, Sarah Silverman.

In Mr. Warmth, director John Landis covers all the bases of why octogenarian insult comic Don Rickles has endured for so long.

The movie takes us to a showroom in Las Vegas, intercut with comments from Rickles' friends and celebrity fans, and Rickles himself talking about his life story.

Landis covers all the salient points of Rickles' career, from TV appearances, to his on-stage stint in The Odd Couple opposite Ernest Borgnine, to key movie roles, including providing the voice of Mr. Potato Head in Toy Story.

If you can't find something to laugh at on this DVD, then you don't like to smile. Even 40-year-old TV clips still seem fresh.

Jimmy Kimmel describes Rickles as Donald Duck to Frank Sinatra's Mickey Mouse. Rickles wasn't in the Rat Pack, but he might as well have been. Sinatra was so enthralled by Rickles' unique brand of comedy, the Chairman would bring all his celebrity friends to be insulted by him.

At one point, the movie becomes a requiem for the bygone days of mob rule in Vegas, topped by Bob Newhart, Rickles' closest friend, reminiscing about how much more fun it was before the corporate mentality settled in.And yet here is Rickles, one of the last links to that era, still packing in the crowds. While Rickles' style may be old school, his performances are uncompromising. And maybe that's why we still love him. John Latchem

Cut'N It Up: Chicago
Street 1/29
Indican, Comedy, $21.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Alex Thomas, Rodney Perry, Pierre Edwards, Marcus Combs, Reggie Reg, Lil Reg, Sonja D, Shang.

Think BET's “Comic View,” or maybe HBO's “Def Comedy Jam,” or imagine a racier version of “Showtime at the Apollo,” where the amateur wannabes are replaced by a group of professional performers.

It would have been a nice touch had the rules of the Apollo applied here, particularly when a performer with no appeal is immediately booed from the stage by an unruly audience. Cut'N It Up spotlights the stage antics of eight black comedians in front of a live audience in a small Chicago nightclub. Some of the performances hit high notes; others blow low ones.

Hosted by comedian-actor Alex Thomas, this approximately 90-minute show and its comedians follow a similar pattern of dialogue. The topics: relationships between men and women, sex, more on relationships and more sex.

“It's going to be one of the hottest DVDs … straight out of Chicago,” Thomas proclaims midway through the show. Well, not quite, but Cut'N It Up isn't a bust either.

The best performances are from Chicago comedian Sonya D, the lone female performer, and Pierre Edwards.

Sonya D generates a ton of laughs, and they sometimes come with a serious message, despite the jokes' profane nature. Edwards is equally effective in a more reserved tone, but his good material connects well with the audience.

Viewers with a tilt for urban humor might appreciate the appeal. But if you're not a connoisseur of that genre and curiosity compels you to take a chance, make sure your virgin ears are prepared. — Benny Lopez

The Yacoubian Building
Street 1/29
Strand, Drama, $27.99 DVD, NR.
In Arabic with English subtitles.

It's a shame that a film such as The Yacoubian Building is not greeted with more fanfare in the United States. It is not only one of the few representatives of Egyptian cinema to arrive stateside in ages, but also that country's answer to the sweeping social tableaux of Robert Altman.

Based on the novel by Alaa Al Aswani, the screenplay for The Yacoubian Building was adapted by Egypt's most celebrated screenwriter, Waheed Hamed, and directed by his son, Marwan. With epic production values and a cast that is a veritable who's who of native celebrities, it has the distinction of being the most costly Egyptian production of all time. It might also be the most watchable.

Erected in downtown Cairo in 1937, the Yacoubian was once the exclusive domain of city's elite, but has since fallen on hard times. The facade is moldering, and the tenants are middle class. Poorer families have even taken up residence in the erstwhile laundry facilities on the roof. It is not hard to think the Yacoubian — along with its diverse inhabitants — a metaphor for Egyptian society at large.

Inside, there is no shortage of drama. Zaki Pasha (Adel Imam) is a pathetic roue evicted from his apartment by a vindictive sister (Essad Younis). Hatem Rasheed (Khaled El Sawy) is a homosexual newspaper editor who bribes a young soldier (Bassem Samra) to sleep with him. Haj Azzam (Nour El-Sherif) is a sanctimonious but sexually frustrated millionaire who takes a young widow (Somaya El Khashab) as a second wife, then forces her to have an abortion. And Taha (Mohamed Imam) is one of the roof-dwelling youths who turns to religious extremism.

What amazes about The Yacoubian Building (and by extension, Hamed's direction) is the way it effortlessly skips not only between contemporary Cairo's social classes, but also between scenes of tender intimacy and stunning grandeur.

Unlike many films that strive to dramatize certain (and in this case, seemingly all) social issues, the characters here seem not like walking thesis statements, but ineffably layered and real. It's a cultural window through which we are privileged to look. — Eddie Mullins

Phonics 4 Babies: Colors & Counting
Prebook 1/24; Street 2/26
Starz, Childrens, $14.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Mallory Lewis.

Growing up with a mom such as famous puppeteer Shari Lewis can teach a kid a thing or two, and daughter Mallory is putting those skills to good use in the “Phonics 4 Babies” series of DVDs. The second and latest outing focuses on colors and numbers.

The Emmy-winning Lewis is accompanied by a cast of five Tummy Tots, little bug puppets that act as a chorus with the precocious Giggles in the lead. With an audience of babies and toddlers, the action is appropriately quick. While the DVD clocks in at about 40 minutes, each segment is just a minute or two. Songs about colors, families and imagination are interspersed among the color and number lessons.

Repetition is key, along with giving young viewers audio and visual cues. For example, when repeating the colors, kids will hear the name of the color, see an object of that color and see the word spelled out in that same color.

Lewis also takes time to point out objects on the screen, giving children lessons on the things that surround them. Manners and relationships are taught through the actions of Lewis and the puppets, rather than overemphasized through heavy-handed lessons. The animations, drawings and sets are adequate, the puppets are adorable and Lewis is very good in her scenes with Giggles, multitasking as a puppeteer, singer and host.

Producers Joe and Cassandra Giangrasso developed the series after facing frustrations teaching their own daughter to speak. They brought in advisors, a clinical psychologist and a speech pathologist to assist with the product, an assurance for parents who may be unsure about plopping their tiny tots in front of the tube.

Between “Phonics 4 Babies” and a plain old cartoon, parents who want to get their kids on the learning track will go for “Phonics” anytime. — Laura Tiffany


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